A history of the Battle of Belleau Wood

Jessica Evans
Jun 1, 2023 2:13 PM PDT
2 minute read
battle of belleau wood painting

This battle scene was painted in 1919 by artist Frank Schoonover of the Battle of Belleau Wood.


The Battle of Belleau Wood was an important military and psychological victory. It showed that Americans could defeat Germany’s best.

Marines fought the Battle of Belleau Wood starting on June 1, 1918. The battle continued until June 26. In that time, U.S. Marines advanced 4 kilometers against a well-entrenched and prepared German Army. Marines took the offensive and held their ground against numerically superior forces. In total, the Marines withstood eight separate counterattacks. In the end, Belleau Wood cost the Germans dearly. German forces probably lost nearly 10,000 while American forces lost around 2,000 personnel. 

For the Marines, the battle of Belleau Wood was a coming-of-age moment. After their arrival in France in January, no one thought much of the Marines. In fact, many considered them to be cannon fodder by their British and French allies. Of course, that all changed by the end. In fact, by the time they left the battle, they had the respect and fear from friend and foe alike. The battle also marked the first time Marine aviators provided close air support to infantry troops on the ground. This would become a standard practice in future conflicts.

The Impact of Belleau Wood

The legacy of Belleau Wood lives on to this day in many ways. The Battle of Belleau Wood was an important military victory and psychological victory. It showed that America's troops could stand up to and defeat the best Germany had to offer. The sacrifices made by those who fought at Belleau Wood helped pave the way for Allied victory in World War I. It also shaped how Marines would fight for generations to come.

U.S. Marine Corps Retired Lt. Col. Michael Kelly educates Marines on the Battle of Belleau Wood in Belleau, France, May 27, 2022. This visit is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their respective countries during World War I. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Akeel Austin)

Facts about the battle

Allied forces consisted primarily of U.S. Marines with some support from French and British forces. The German Army was badly outnumbered in the battle. Historians estimate they had about 60,000 soldiers compared to around 100,000 Allied troops.

By June 26, Allied forces had largely pushed the Germans out of Belleau Wood though pockets of resistance remained. In total, there were over 9,000 casualties on both sides with over 2,000 killed in action. Of those killed, 1,811 were U.S. Marines - making Belleau Wood one of the deadliest battles in Marine Corps history.

In addition to being a turning point in World War I, it's also important for another reason. It's where the Marines got their nickname "Devil Dogs." This nickname was given to them by German soldiers who were impressed by their ferocity in battle.  

Here's how a Marine Expeditionary Brigade would fight the Battle of Belleau Wood today.

Belleau Wood was an important turning point in World War I and remains one of the deadliest battles in Marine Corps history. Throughout the fighting, U.S. Marines displayed great courage and tenacity which led German soldiers to give them their now-famous nickname "Devil Dogs."

Remember that time Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. drank from a fountain at Aisne-Marne American cemetery?


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